|Posted on Monday, February 16, 2004|
We Mean Business. Illinois Business.
Urban levee districts attract more development, less concern
Although building or leasing a commercial structure within a flood plain protected against a 500-year flood event appears to be a deal breaker for Smurfit-Stone Container Corp., it hasn't deterred tenants in Alton Center Business Park and hundreds of companies located within the newly improved Monarch-Chesterfield Levee District.
Smurfit-Stone Container, which employs some 400 workers in Alton, has reportedly eliminated Alton as a potential site for its future 30,000-square-foot office facility and is seriously considering one of two sites in Edwardsville.
Mike Clark, president of Clark Properties, said the flood plain locale did not appear to be an issue with Smurfit when he submitted a proposal last October, but that it surfaced in discussions within the past 60 days.
The Wood River Levee was initially built in 1910 as an agricultural levee. Cas Sheppard, president of the Alton-based engineering firm of Sheppard, Morgan & Schwaab Inc., doesn't think protected flood plains are out of bounds for developers.
His firm, which started in 1892 and was instrumental in the design and construction of the Wood River Levee, also partnered with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the 1950s to raise the levee to qualify it as a 500-year urban levee.
An urban levee is one that is built to protect urbanized areas where the consequences of a flood would be the greatest; in contrast, an agricultural levee - such as the ones located in Monroe and Randolph counties - is generally a 50-year or 100-year levee, designed to protect against lesser flooding events.
Notable urban levees include the Wood River Levee, the St. Louis Levee, the East St. Louis Levee, the Prairie DuPont Levee and the Monarch-Chesterfield Levee, which is expected to reach completion by this summer. The first four urban levees mentioned were designed to protect communities from flooding caused by the Mississippi River or one of its tributaries. The Monarch-Chesterfield Levee is being constructed to protect the city of Chesterfield and other adjacent communities from flooding caused by the Missouri River or one of its tributaries.
"The Wood River Levee is a 500-year urban levee, providing the same amount of protection as these other urban levees," said Deborah Roush, project manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' St. Louis District. "Even during the Flood of 1993, the Wood River Levee held without a problem."
Leroy Emerick, president of the Wood River Levee District, said the nearly 14,000-acre levee district also provides residents, businesses and industries protection from overflows of Wood River and the Cahokia Diversion Canal.
The district covers the entire area from the city of Alton south to the canal.
"The major purpose of building - and later raising - the (Wood River) levee was to protect the major industries here at that time - American Oil, Standard Oil, Laclede Steel and International Shoe Co.," Emerick said.
"The Wood River Levee never ruptured and never broke, even during the Flood of 1993."
David Human, a partner in the law firm of Husch & Eppenberger LLC and spokesman for the Monarch-Chesterfield Levee District, said his firm organized the levee district in 1947.
The levee district spans 6,000 acres, 4,700 of which are protected.
"In the early 1980s, with the opening of the Spirit of St. Louis Airport in Chesterfield Valley, St. Louis County was the primary force in getting this levee upgraded to a 100-year levee." Human said. "Until that time, it had been an agricultural levee."
In 1993, the levee was breached upstream of the Daniel Boone Bridge. Approximately 300 businesses existed in Chesterfield Valley at that time.
"The valley was inundated with water in '93," he said. "As a result, the Federal Emergency Management Administration required the Monarch-Chesterfield Levee to be re-certified."
In 1994, the city of Chesterfield formed a tax increment financing district to include all of Chesterfield Valley. At the same time, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began a reconnaissance study.
"Just this past year, the Corps authorized initial construction funding of the urban levee," Human said.
The earthen improvements are 95 percent done; this summer is the anticipated construction completion, and the levee will be re-certified as a 500-year levee. Three pump stations are already in place, he said, to pump out internal stormwater.
"In today's economy, it's amazing to see the commercial activity in Chesterfield Valley," said Human. "We've been trying to do what we can to get the most bang for our buck in terms of levee improvements and flood protection."
The levee district has spent more than $30 million to improve the levee system.
American Water Co., an Alton Center Business Park tenant, and THF Realty, a Chesterfield Commons developer, are examples of companies that initiated substantial developments in these 500-year protected flood plains.
"The reality on the 'post-1993' development in the Chesterfield Valley is that when THF Realty started Chesterfield Commons in the fall of 1997, everyone said, 'If Stan Kroenke (THF board chairman) and WalMart (anchor tenant) are willing to build here, we are, too.' When that development went forward, it virtually fully guaranteed the financing of the TIF and levee."
Prior to 1993, Jefferson-Smurfit - now known as Smurfit-Stone Container Corp. - established a training site at the corner of Edison and Goddard Streets in the heart of the Chesterfield Valley. The company remains there today.